Church Communication Hero: Billy Graham

Church Communication Hero: Billy Graham

February 21, 2018 by

Billy Graham spoke to more people in live audiences than anyone in history—nearly 215 million people. He became America’s pastor (if not the world’s), counseled presidents and comforted a nation in the midst of tragedy. He started as a finger-wagging, sin-smashing tent revivalist, but instead of flaming out, Billy Graham mellowed out, becoming a beloved spiritual grandfather who spoke kindly and warmly of God’s love.

Jesus said go into all the world and preach the gospel, and Billy listened.

Billy Graham died today at the age of 99.

“The greatest need in the world is the transformation of human nature. We need a new heart that will not have lust and greed and hate in it. We need a heart filled with love and peace and joy, and that is why Jesus came into the world. He died on the cross to make peace between us and God and to change us from within by his Spirit. He can change you, if you will turn to him in repentance and faith.”

Not a Great Preacher

The first time Billy Graham shared his testimony was with a group of about 10 prisoners. The experience “reinforced my conviction that I would never become a preacher.”

Graham’s first formal sermon lasted eight minutes and included all four sermons he had prepared.

At Florida Bible Institute, Graham would paddle out to a small island in the Hillsborough River to practice his sermons and preach to the alligators and birds, like a St. Francis of Florida. If the animals wouldn’t stop to listen, he’d preach to a captive audience of cypress tree stumps.

“I am not a great preacher, and I don’t claim to be a great preacher. I’ve heard great preaching many times and I wished I was one of those great preachers. I’m an ordinary preacher, just communicating the gospel in the best way I know.”

Focus on Evangelism

Billy Graham would pioneer nearly every form of modern communication, from radio to TV—and even the internet. In 1993 Billy Graham participated in an AOL chat session, his first foray into the world of online evangelism. In 1998 he gave a TED Talk.

“I have had the privilege of preaching the gospel on every continent in most of the countries of the world. And I have found that when I present the simple message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with authority, quoting from the very Word of God—he takes that message and drives it supernaturally into the human heart.”

On Going to Church as a Child

As a child, Graham went to church only “grudgingly” and the minister at his family’s church reminded him of a mortician.

“I don’t ever remember not going to church. If I had told my parents I didn’t want to go, they would have whaled the tar out of me. … I couldn’t stand going to church until I accepted Christ as my Savior.”

On Church Marketing

Billy Graham served as a pastor to Western Springs Baptist Church in Western Springs, Ill., for a year in the 1940s. It was the only time he would officially pastor a local congregation. During his time there he changed the name to the Village Church since there were few Baptists in the area.

While Graham didn’t serve in the local church for long, he did champion the local church. His crusades always partnered with local churches and sought to connect new converts with local churches where they could grow in their faith.

But marketing and communication have always been a central part of Graham’s work:

“Sincerity is the biggest part of selling anything—including the Christian plan of salvation.”

“We are selling the greatest product on earth. Why shouldn’t we promote it as effectively as we promote a bar of soap?”

“We used every modern means to reach the ear of the unconverted, and then punched them straight between the eyes with the gospel.”

That effort to reach out often meant connecting with youth. In the 1970s, Graham attended various rock festivals, protests, and love-ins in order to better understand and connect with young people. To maintain anonymity, he attended “incognito” (meaning he donned a hat, sunglasses, and a big sweater).

Jesus Christ, Not Billy Graham

Graham always tried to minimize his own prominence, to the point that he strongly resisted naming his organization after himself in 1950. When the Billy Graham Library opened in 2007, he declared there was “too much Billy Graham.”

“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to heaven because of what Christ did.”

On the End of His Ministry

Due to his age and declining health, Graham has receded from the public over the last decade or two. That may mean the younger generation has forgotten (or never knew) America’s preacher. But it’s a life story worth studying.

Billy Graham had a profound impact on Christianity in the 20th century. His single-minded focus on sharing the gospel took him around the world. His willingness to try new methods and explore new technologies should be an inspiration to church communicators everywhere.

“I realize that my ministry would someday come to an end. I am only one in a glorious chain of men and women God has raised through the centuries to build Christ’s church and to take the gospel everywhere.”


Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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One Response to “Church Communication Hero: Billy Graham”

  • Lisa L. McGloiry, J.D.
    February 22, 2018

    Graham was a communication hero also because he analyzed his audience and tapped into a missing market of evangelism at that time: reaching African Americans with the gospel of Jesus Christ and integrating his crusades. In doing so he became the pioneer of breaking down racial barriers and paving the way for the gospel to be spread to diverse audiences all around the world, by choosing not to preach to segregated audiences anymore. His most famous crusade at Madison Square Garden was an example of him personally going to Harlem with a simple invitation. A six week campaign that started in May, 1957 was extended three times until September of that year due to the overwhelming response. He is a communication hero for extending the message of Christ to diverse audiences that has changed how we worship today. Neither black, white, or brown but we are all one in Christ.

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